Florida State Senator and Democratic Whip Lori Berman
State Senator Lori Berman’s office submitted these responses to the American Opioid Podcast on 3/1/2019 9:59:14 AM.
What district of Florida do you represent?
Briefly, how would you describe the opioid crisis in your state?
The State of Florida has been at the center of the national opioid epidemic. Being a State Senator from Palm Beach County, my district has unfortunately been ground zero for this crisis. Overdoses in our county are the some of the highest in the state and there are hundreds of recovery care centers and sober homes in our area, some which operate legally and ethically and some which do not. We have finally seen a reduction in the amount of opioid overdoses this year for the first time in 5 years thanks to the leadership of our governments and our State Attorney, Dave Aronberg, who currently heads the State of Florida’s Sober Homes Task Force. Every county in our diverse state from urban Miami-Dade to rural Suwannee have been hit hard by this epidemic and we are working diligently to try to find efficient and effective solutions.
What are the two or three most significant bills that have been introduced in your chamber to help alleviate the opioid crisis in your state?
In 2016 as a nationwide opioid epidemic surged, the Florida Legislature authorized the IDEA Needle Exchange Program for Miami-Dade County with the goal of lowering the rate of transmission of infectious diseases. This program allows individuals to exchange used needles and syringes for new ones while also providing naloxone for opioid reversals. Senate Bill 366 introduced this year would allow for the expansion of this program to any county upon adopted ordinance.
Additionally, comprehensive sober homes legislation has been introduced and passed in the past few years related to the voluntary certification of sober homes and continues to be expanded upon. This year, legislation will be introduced to continue to regulate this industry to rid it of bad actors to allow for this vulnerable population to recover from addiction in a safe environment.
One huge step we took as a state was to pass legislation that limited prescriptions of opiates to three-day supplies, unless deemed medically necessary in which a doctor can write a prescription of up to 7 days. The new law is designed to make it more difficult for people to take opioids long enough to become dependent. Studies show the likelihood of addiction increases the longer someone is on the first prescription of opioids. In addition to restricting the number of days an acute pain prescription can cover, the law requires physicians and pharmacists to consult a statewide database before prescribing or dispensing controlled substances. They also must provide additional documentation if the drug is being prescribed for non-acute care and to verify a patient’s identification before dispensing the prescription.
What was your involvement, if any, in those bills (e.g., introduction, advocacy, vote pledge)?
As a former chair of the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation I worked with many stakeholders in drafting some of the sober homes legislation that has become law. I have co-sponsored, advocated on behalf of, and advocated for these measures to pass during my tenure in the legislature.
Have any of the bills passed? If not, why?
All of the aforementioned legislation has passed with the exception of SB 366 which was filed this year and is working its way through the committee process currently. The new sober homes legislation is currently being drafted and will likely be filed soon.
What was the most memorable experience you had while learning about the opioid crisis in your state?
A constituent of mine called my cell phone at 10pm in distress. Her daughter was an addict and had finally agreed to seek help however, when they reached out to the facilities that would be able to assist there were no beds available to her for be taken in for detox. She had no insurance and nowhere to go. This was very disturbing to me and I will never forget the fear I heard in her mother’s voice as we attempted to find a temporary placement. A few weeks later I found out that a doctor that was my age had overdosed on opiates and passed away, which proves the point that addiction does not discriminate. It is unfortunately gotten to the point that we all know someone, whether it be a family member, friend, or acquaintance who has struggled with opioid addiction.
If you had a magic wand that allowed you to pass any legislation you wanted in order to help alleviate the opioid crisis in your state, what would that legislation look like?
I would love to be able to remove the federal barriers that currently exist that prevent states from being able to effectively regulate these sober homes to ensure that they are providing a safe environment and quality care to those in recovery. Regulating these sober homes would prevent a significant amount of relapses and overdoses. I would also mandate that each county in Florida have a dedicated addiction receiving facility to ensure that there are beds available for anyone seeking detox and would provide state funding for their construction and operation.